OAKLAND — On a roster that entered training camp fairly settled, the Raiders’ Saturday night tilt with the Tennessee Titans is the last chance for some players to make an impression.
Rosters will get cut from 90 players to 75 on Tuesday, a precursor to the more difficult drop to the 53-man roster following the final preseason game.
Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said he plans to play the starters at least for the first half and possibly into the third quarter against Tennessee, so those roster battles will take place mostly in the fourth quarter.
Game planning for this one has been minimal with the Raiders slated to see the Titans a month later in Week 3 of the regular season.
“You always put a plan together, so technically you’re doing some portion of it,” Del Rio said of game planning. “Knowing that we’re going to play them early in the year, it was a little bit of understanding what you like and thoughts you had — more a collection of that. In terms of trying to let it all air out in Week 3, it’s not really a sound approach.”
The key, instead, will be for the Raiders to show their physicality. Neither team will likely display any exotic blitz packages or go-to offensive plays. But there’s still the opportunity to beat the man across the line on any given play and the Raiders would like to show they can win those battles.
Here are five Raiders to keep an eye on Saturday:
Running back Jalen Richard
The hype train riding this undrafted free agent back has gotten a little out of control.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave raved about all the “spectacular” things Richard was doing in practice before he injured his knee and had to miss the first two preseason games. It’s true that Richard flashed in the early weeks of camp as much or more than anybody, but the real test of a running back comes in live action and he’s yet to see that.
The Raiders plan to give him — and DeAndre Washington — time with the first-team offensive line to get an accurate evaluation of both. That’s a big opportunity to cement Richard’s roster status.
Safety Nate Allen
Allen has had a knack for making plays in the preseason for the Raiders. He has seven tackles, an interception and recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown thus far this year and had a two-interception game last year in the third exhibition.
The veteran doesn’t project as a starter assuming the secondary stays healthy, but he probably will start Saturday with Reggie Nelson nursing an undisclosed injury. The big test is what Allen will do in the regular season, but continue solid preseason play boosts the confidence in the Raiders depth at safety.
Wide receiver Seth Roberts
It may have just been a ploy to push the young receiver a little, but Del Rio said earlier this week that Roberts was “being pushed.” It’s hard to imagine the team’s returning No. 3 receiver being in danger of not sticking around — especially with the rest of the receiving corps below him doing little to make an impact — but Roberts could probably use a big game Saturday to show he’s ready to take another leap.
Linebacker Ben Heeney
The starting middle linebacker struggled in Green Bay against the Packers’ physical run game, bringing up questions about if his 6-foot, 231-pound frame can handle the position. It came three days after he got dinged up in practice, but he said, “I was out there playing, so I was good.”
The Raiders are putting a lot of trust in him and teammates have praised Heeney and are confident in him at that role. A strong game against the Titans’ run-heavy attack would help ease some concerns as the season draws nearer.
Quarterback Derek Carr
There’s no reason to be concerned about Carr and the starting offense’s inability to find the end zone thus far. It will happen and this is preseason.
But if they are going to play another half or more of football this week, it sure would be nice to see Carr and his receivers connect a few more times and move down the field for a touchdown. The Raiders’ offense may be vanilla, but they won’t be facing a mint chip defense so it’s time to find the end zone, at least once.